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Placemaking and the Wellness Effect

Making healthier communities.  Never underestimate the power of placemaking.
Making healthier communities. Never underestimate the power of placemaking.
Taking a look at the evidence that supports the notion that placemaking has a wellness effect, and the opinion that placemaking is critical for the creation of functional space that promotes health and happiness - i.e., wellbeing and wellness.

Understanding the concept of placemaking can be impossible when you just hear it described:

“a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces which capitalises on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential.”

See what I mean!

Wellness effects of placemaking in evidence
Wellness effects of placemaking in evidence

But if you instead describe what placemaking does, it suddenly becomes not only accessible to everyone, but a total revelation to many.

Just read this:

“placemaking is all about creating spaces and places that promote wellbeing for the people using them.”

Making Placemaking Easy to Understand

By focusing on the wellness effect of placemaking, not only does the idea become simple all of a sudden, but placemaking’s defined purpose becomes so easy to understand that anyone involved in the creation of space and place can naturally attach it to every decision they make, and every task they undertake.

By focusing on placemaking and the wellness effect I believe the movement can take over the built world.

Placemaking is All About Wellness – The Best Build Companies Understand This

Just take a look at this: –

At the recent North England Build event in Manchester I came across a brochure for MDA Architectural Services.

Whilst the brochure really needs a professional to enhance its quality, (get in touch MDA, I can help), the words on the front told me all I needed to know about the company to consider using their services: –

“Designing Spaces to Make People Happy….”


Having 1 goal – designing spaces to make people happy – means that MDA is going about their business the right way. They design and create space that promotes the wellbeing of the people using it. They cannot fail.

MDA wasn’t the only company at North England Build on the same page.

Gilling Dod Architects were there, showcasing some of their amazing projects. Many of the ones that caught my eye had been completed for various NHS Trusts across the country.

The thing that really struck me was the way Gilling Dod combines their architectural and master-planning skills with their in house interior design team, to: “create guidelines for cohesive environments which help to improve patient outcomes and wellbeing…”

I spoke to Gilling Dod’s Business Development Manager at North England Build and she explained that the wellness effect of placemaking is absolutely core to their work – especially but certainly not exclusively when it comes to their work within the healthcare environment.

These are just 2 examples of brilliant build companies in 1 location at any one time that absolutely get – at the most core level – the wellness effect of placemaking.

This suggests to me that the Project for Public Spaces’ pioneering placemaking approach developed back in the 70’s, for creating and sustaining public spaces that build stronger communities, is really having a global impact at last.

Wellness and Placemaking an Expert’s Opinion

Back in 2012 when American expert architect Jeff Potter became the president of the America Institute of Architects, he said this: “As architects, we have to dare to imagine the future, because it will be the future that decides the value of what we do today.”

In imagining the future here’s what he decided would be important in 2012: –


“…the connection between health and what we build…architects understand this connection; but not many physicians do, and such knowledge is even scarcer among the public. As the cost of providing healthcare continues to accelerate…the discussion [needs to] shift…from treating illness to keeping people well (and giving them the tools to keep themselves well)…”

And: –


“there is a growing hunger for connections, for rootedness, for places that are special and not interchangeable…we are guilty of encouraging the media to discuss “design” as a noun rather than a verb, as a beauty contest rather than a way of thinking that heals the fracturing of human experience. That has to change…”

The truth is, his vision of the future has been realised already. That was quick!

Practical Evidence of the Wellness Effects of Placemaking

Now, opinion is all very well, but it only gets anyone so far! What we need therefore is real evidence of the wellness effects of placemaking…

Fortunately so much work has been done on this that hopefully I only need to highlight some of it for you to learn everything you need in order to be as convinced as I am…

Philadelphia Pennsylvania:

Creating happy spaces
Creating happy spaces

A great deal of research has been undertaken by the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, public health researchers and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society into the effects on wellbeing of greening public space.

Like in many areas of the US, issues from economic downturns, to deindustrialisation and population outmigration have created challenges relating to land abandonment in Pennsylvania.

So, a decade long research program was done to determine what effect, if any, improving public spaces would have on the community around the space.

Certain control lots were chosen for attention, and certain control lots were left abandoned, and the results are fascinating…

The 10-year study revealed that around the improved public spaces there were: –

  • Reductions in gun assaults
  • Reductions in vandalism
  • Significant increases in residents reporting less stress
  • Increases in residents enjoying more exercise

Such simple approaches to improving community spaces as planting trees, and greening up and tidying up place had a quantifiable, visible, positive effect within a community, and for the residents of that community – a reduction in crime, and an increase in wellbeing.

The Wellness Effect of Placemaking in the Workplace

Another area where placemaking can have a positive impact on the wellness of those within the space is in a workplace environment.

Jacqueline C. Vischer from the School of Industrial Design at the Faculté de l’aménagement at the University of Montreal in Canada undertook a detailed assessment of the impact of workplace stress on employees in a bid to determine whether positive environment changes could have a real effect on wellbeing, performance etc.

In the paper produced from her research entitled ‘The effects of the physical environment on job performance: towards a theoretical model of workspace stress’ she determined the following: “Spaces providing less support, that is, those that are inappropriate to some degree for the tasks being performed, are appraised as uncomfortable by users, requiring them to perform coping activities to solve environmental problems, and are therefore stressful.”

She was able to quantify, to some degree, the cost to employers thus: “The degree to which coping with workspace occupies the time and attention of users represents, for employers, loss of time and attention from the performance of work.”

Her deduction from the research was that by combining elements of work stress research with the environmental psychology of workspace, stress can be attributable to failures in the design of workspace, or alleviated when placemaking is applied.

Jacqueline C. Vischer concludes her research by stating: “As we find out more about how, when and why the buildings where people work affect their health and morale, so we will be able to help companies make more humane and cost-effective decisions about workspace.

The Approach Needed When Creating Space

According to the Project for Public Spaces, the global drivers of the placemaking movement, what sets them apart is that their approach, as a nonprofit planning, design and educational organisation dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities, is place-based and community-driven.

Creating special places
Creating special places

And therein lies the fundamental approach that I think we all need to adopt when considering the creation of space and the function of place.

As PPS writes: “With community-based participation at its centre, an effective Placemaking process capitalises on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, and it results in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health, happiness, and wellbeing.”

Therefore, by working from the point of view of what a place is for, and including contribution from and requirements of those who will use it, you apply placemaking and through so doing you naturally create space that can contribute to people’s wellness.

Images via PPS.org with my thanks.

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